By Parrish Frisbee
“Half-halt.” As dressage riders, we continuously learn about, ride, and, many times, plain out forget this phrase.
Sometimes it’s perfectly timed to rock our horse back on their hind end within the gaits, or to prepare for transitions. Other times, if you’re like me, it’s like trigonometry trying to put together what your trainer just told you to do, what your horse is currently doing, what YOU are currently doing (which probably isn’t a half-halt, it’s some combination of leg, seat, hand, and trying to remember if you turned the stove off, and rushing to get to the barn), and aligning the planets for that ONE moment that brings a smidgen of satisfaction.
Life outside the saddle has its own idea of half-halts. I’ve had to ride a LOT of them over the years. Some that were wonderful and I wish went on forever, and others that I could have done without at the time but have led me to where I am as a rider, and as a person.
From trail-riding on mules, to competing at the county fair with my 4-H club in every class from showmanship to flag race, I rode whatever was lent to me and loved every moment. In high school, I went from being a weekend cafe waitress, down the street from my house in Louisiana, to working at one of the country’s top sport-horse breeding and sales facilities, with my little Paint horse Jack to accompany me in the beginning of my dressage career. I loved every second of it – teaching foals to tolerate curry combs and trailers, learning the administrative side of running a facility, assisting in veterinary check-ups, inspections, and eventually, my favorite task of assisting the head trainer in starting the young stock.
I got a shot at a working student gig, where I was thrown into a mix of horses that taught me a slew of ‘to-dos’ and ‘definitely not thats’. Sun-up to sun-down, pretty much seven days per week, I ate, slept, breathed, and probably talked in my sleep about the barn and horses. We traveled the country competing, assisting in exhibitions, etc. I rode and worked with horses that aided me to get my USDF Bronze and Silver Medals.
My boyfriend lived all the way out on the West Coast while I rode in the Midwest, doing his own thing (his main interest is horsepower with wheels…close enough). Being long-distance for a year was enough for the both of us, so I raced myself out to California, where I groomed for an FEI trainer and her clients, continuing to learn in and out of the saddle. I showed more for fun, and for the first time in a while, with no stress. My love for the horse was renewed at this point, and I enjoyed all saddle time.
The boyfriend was given a new opportunity with his company, so here we are now in Texas. Back to the South, but not quite back in the saddle for about four months, which in rider years is about 23,848. I was thrown a life-raft by a trainer who’s an hour north of us, giving me the chance to work off saddle time on whatever horse she throws at me, as I continue my journey – not only to a hopeful USDF Gold Medal, but in furthering my education and appreciation for these animals that have taught me hard work, love, and patience.
Lately, I’ve read some articles and blog posts from riders that have experienced similar situations in life, while on their path to becoming a professional. They too had to make the tough decisions as to whether or not the life balance of a trainer was for them. Everyone is different in how they balance saddle-time and life outside the barn. Most pros are much better at it than I believed I would be, and so I chose to fuel my barn-time with a ‘normal’ job, as many might put it. I know myself better than anyone, and I knew that pursuing becoming a pro was just not in the cards, for now. At this point, there are other aspects of life that we want to take advantage of while we can. This is not to say that professionals are unable to do it, but I know what I myself can handle and what I want to prioritize. To live, breathe, and sleep horses is a dream, but one that I could not make come true quite yet, because I was becoming sour to it several years ago and it was unfair to the horses in my care at that time that I was not in love with the sport as I once had been.
Someone once told me that I would never amount to anything because of the choices I had made and that I would never be ‘on the map’. To them, my ‘half-halt’ defined me as a failure. Riddle me this: What happened to being the best horseman/horsewoman you can be for your horses, and for the sport? Why is this ‘map’ the focus, and not the solidity and understanding of the training? Everyone’s compass is different and to ridicule another’s is disappointing to see.
On rare occasions, I do reflect on my decision. Then, I internally smack myself because I wouldn’t have the life I love so much right now, otherwise. A man who loves and supports me, a job that funds my equine endeavors, and opportunities to experience life with family and friends who are dear to us. My choices are just that, mine. I have learned to appreciate and love all of them, as they have brought me to where I am right now.
Horses have been in my life since day one, and I have chosen the path to where I can not only enjoy them without certain stresses, but also afford them! There are a lot of years I have left to live. I want to enjoy riding without a timeline. To enjoy walking in the barn, hearing hay being munched and happy sighs from velvet muzzles. To enjoy competing without fear of losing sources of income if I happen to have a bad ride. To just enjoy the animal that has given me so much in my life and relies on me to give back.
I haven’t ever aimed to be the rider that graced the covers of magazines or become a household name. Just a rider that thought she could, so she did.